sharonwaxman

Sharon Waxman claims rival Nikki Finke has been fired. Finke denies it. Who’s zooming who?

Nikki Finke, deadline.com’s feisty Hollywood scoop hound and Sharon Waxman, who edits rival site TheWrap have been feuding bitterly for years. What better way to end the sniping than to declare your competitor has been fired?

That’s the news Waxman broke in TheWrap yesterday in her by-lined column “WaxWord.”

It’s the scoop to end all scoops… if only it were true. So far Finke’s boss Jay Penske claims it isn’t. Finke refuses to comment, although she did reveal she’s going on “summer vacation.” (Well, deserved no doubt.)

Finke rewrote the book on Hollywood trade journalism and Internet blogging when she launched her website in 2006. She’d previously written about entertainment for the LA Weekly and other media outlets, including The Los Angeles Times.

Her feisty, no-holds-barred reporting style blew the conflicted and often sugar-coated Hollywood trades Variety and Hollywood Reporter out of the water.

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Needless to say, her success spawned competitors. Waxman had been covering entertainment for The Washington Post and The New York Times. She launched TheWrap in 2009, after writing a personal blog. Since then, there’s been no love lost between the two in the fight for scoops.

(Full Disclosure: I was also a reporter at The Washington Post but I did not know Waxman while I worked there –Keith Girard)

Finke’s website went corporate in 2009, when Jay Penske’s fledgling media company bought it. The move was surprising given Finke’s fierce independence and anti-corporate feelings.

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But Penske really threw celebrity journalism for a loop when he bought Finke’s rival, Variety last year. Finke had almost single-handedly brought the trade to its knees. That raised an interesting question; could deadline and the trade paper co-exist under the same corporate umbrella?

Penske certainly is no journalist, and it’s always been an open question whether he has the constitution for Finke’s style of reporting. The two have been rumored to have clashed on several occasions.

The latest alleged spat involved Finke and executives at United Talent Agency (UTA). At issue was a seemingly low-grade story about whether UTA was taking on an equity partner.

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When Finke found out her site had been scooped, she fired off a blistering email to UTA executives, claiming they had lied about the deal to colleague Mike Flemming .

In the alleged email to UTA Chief Executive Jeremy Zimmer and others, Finke threatened to “fu*k the agency,” according to Waxman.

Waxman went public with a story, claiming the UTA flap was the last straw and that Penske had fired Finke over it. She cited “multiple individuals with knowledge of the situation,” although the true source seemed to be Penske himself.

The publisher had reportedly “told several top Hollywood executives” he was firing Finke, because “she had crossed the line one too many times” by “sending poison-pen emails berating [executives] over scoops she lost to competitors,” Waxman wrote.

Now that he owns Variety, Penske may be falling into the same trap as previous trade publishers. He could be hoping to curry favor with major players to win advertising dollars. And, that may have led him to draw the line on Finke.

One thing is certain, Finke’s brand of journalism isn’t how you make bigwig friends or get invited to exclusive parties in Hollywood. But Penske has since issued several statements denouncing the report and threatening to sue TheWrap.

For her part, Finke denied writing anything like the email described by Waxman and published her entire UTA exchange as proof on her blog.

“True, I’ve occasionally lost my temper and sent nasty emails to Hollywood. And not once has Jay Penske ever complained to me about them. (He knows I’m a bitch. That’s why he bought me.),” Finke wrote.

Added Flemming: “Nobody fires Nikki Finke.” Except maybe Sharon Waxman.